Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Philippine Insurrection and the American War Prayer



War and religion are perhaps two of man's worst follies. And oftentimes, they go hand in hand. How peculiar is it that when in times of war, a nation's people prays for their soldiers' glorious victory and the crushing of their enemy. This act may seem natural at first glance, but upon inspection, it is ironic in more ways than one.


How ironic is it that a nation's people gathers in a house of God to pray about, in essence, the death of another nation's people. Surely, if there is a God, then such a violent event would be condemned and deemed sinful, especially since God is supposed to be the source of love, not death. I mean, how unholy can you get than to go out and kill your fellow man? Moreover, does it not occur to one nation's people that perhaps the other side might be praying to God as well for their victory and the crushing of their enemy?

Should a God exist, then God would find himself in quite a predicament with this situation. He has millions of people in one country and millions of people in the other both asking him for their respective victory and the slaughtering of their enemy, which is each other.

So what is God to do? Who does he listen to? Does he kill them all? Or does he choose a side? Does the nation with more people get the advantage since there is probably more people praying on their side? Or do the people who pray harder get the upper hand? Is it quantity over quality or vice versa? If the other people happen to be un-Christianized tribes like the Native Americans and the Philippine natives were, does that mean God automatically allows the massacre of their entire population? I don't mean to complicate things, but what about the women and children (and the babies who cannot even pray yet)?

This subject is something to think about. It appears that God, the Church, and religious dogma might be much less than what people are brainwashed to regard them to be. Personally, I believe that these fake ideologies can be more accurately defined as an instrument in not only manipulating the masses, but also for comforting our guilty consciences for immoral actions, such as war, that humans tend to commit.

For a literary account of the situation I describe, please read the short story "The War Prayer" by the witty and brilliant Mark Twain (written circa 1905), which is a dark satire about the consequences of war, and prayers for victory. The piece can be read below, following a brief background about the history during its writing.

Background of "The War Prayer"

Twain was generally supportive of the Spanish-American War of 1898, which he viewed as an effort to liberate subject peoples from the despotism of Spanish rule, especially in Cuba. Under the terms of the treaty that ended the brief, eight-month war, Cuba gained independence, but Spain ceded Puerto Rico and Guam to the United States, which was also allowed to purchase the Philippine Islands. The war was consequently followed by the Philippine-American War (formerly known as the "Philippine Insurrection"), a bloody and protracted conflict between American troops and Filipinos seeking independence from the United States. Twain was appalled by his country's brutal military occupation of the islands, where over a million Filipinos, the vast majority of them civilians, died before the rebellion finally subsided at the end of 1913. "There must be two Americas," Twain bitterly observed early in the conflict, "one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land." His response to the Philippine-American War is also revealed by "The War Prayer," which Twain dictated in 1904-05 and then submitted to Harper's Bazar (later named Harper's Bazaar). After the editor rejected it as "not quite suited to a woman's magazine," Twain told a friend that he did not think the story would be published in his lifetime, adding, "None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth." Indeed, since he was under contract to write exclusively for the publishing firm of Harper & Brothers, Twain could not publish "The War Prayer" elsewhere, and the story did not appear until several years after Twain's death. The text is take from its first printing in the collection Europe and Elsewhere (1923), edited by Twain's literary executor Albert Bigelow Paine.

THE WAR PRAYER
by Mark Twain

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and sputtering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spreads of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country and invoked the God of Battles, beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpouring of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.

It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety's sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

Sunday morning came – next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their faces alight with material dreams – visions of a stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! – then home from the war, bronzed heros, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation – "God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest, Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!"

Then came the "long" prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory.

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher's side and stood there, waiting.

With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal," Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!"

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside – which the startled minister did – and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said

"I come from the Throne – bearing a message from Almighty God!" The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. "He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd and grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import – that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of – except he pause and think.

"God's servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two – one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of His Who hearth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this – keep it in mind. If you beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor's crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

"You have heard your servant's prayer – the uttered part of it. I am commissioned by God to put into words the other part of it – that part which the pastor, and also you in your hearts, fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory – must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle – be Thou near them! With them, in spirit, we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause)

"Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits."

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's impossible to present historical events as totally factual, but
those of us who comment on such things have a responsibility to
at least offer an array of probabilities, especially regarding those
events that are easily politicized. Such is the case regarding the
Philippine Insurrection or Philippine-American War.

The former term is perfectly appropriate, based on universally-
recognized formal and official agreements between nations. The U.S.
engaged in a legal (albeit immoral) transaction with Spain that
ceded the Philippine Islands to the U.S. Any military activity or actions on the part of Philippine Revolutionaries could only be officially portrayed as an insurrection, regardless of latter 20th century
Philippine academia who assert otherwise. Anyone, anywhere can prefer their own descriptions of historical events, but they can never replace
official designations based on universal, diplomatic conventions.

Concerning casualties, there is no doubt a concerted effort on the part
of the same academia to rewrite history, regardless of the fact that
their assertions strain the sensibilities and tend to regress into a
exercise in hyperbole. I have no problem with responsible revisionism,
especially in those cases where new information is discovered or old
information disregarded, but please consider the many reliable, well-
researched sources on the events in the Philippines from 1898-1920,
virtually all of which state that Philippine Army casualties were no more
than 30,000 and civilian casualties from 300,000-1,000,000. Please
note that "casualties" are killed and injured, with a wide ratio, and certainly not a ratio of 1:1. Military casualties must also consider
hostilities between revolutionary groups and disease, especially the
cholera epidemic late in the conflict.
I'm not including citations here because I believe it would be an insult to your obvious intelligence and you of course have the ability to conduct
your own research.
I enjoy your blog and hope you continue to make entries.

Anonymous said...

to the first commenter: apparently it's never occurred to you that by deferring to "official designations based on universal, diplomatic conventions" you are simply allowing the colonizing nations to continue to "prefer [their] own descriptions of historical events." by "universal" you really mean "universal among colonizing nations." get your head out of the empire's ass. your vision will be much clearer.

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